Asking Indirect Questions in English

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Why do we use indirect questions?

We use indirect questions in order to make the question sound less demanding and intrusive.

Imagine that a stranger on the street asks you these direct questions:

Are you single?
What is your address?
How old are you?
How much money do you have?

It feels aggressive and rude, right?

We use indirect questions in order to be less aggressive and to sound less nosy. They are a more polite or formal way to gain information.

Compare the examples below. What do you notice?
– What do the indirect questions begin with?
– Sometimes the indirect questions have ‘if’ and other times there are question words. Can you guess why?
-To make direct questions, we invert (for example ‘you are’ becomes ‘are you’). Or we add an auxiliary ‘do’. Does that happen in the indirect questions?
-Some of the indirect questions have a question mark, and some don’t. Can you think of why?

Direct Questions

Are you single?
What is your address?
How old are you?
How much money do you have?

Indirect Questions

I was wondering if you are single.
I don’t know what your address is.
Could you remind me how old you are?
I’d like to know how much money you have.

How to ask indirect questions

There are three steps. First, use a phrase to indicate that it’s an indirect question. Next, add if/weather/question word. Finally, add the question as a general affirmative statement.

Let’s look at it step by step.

First, select a phrase.

I want/would like to know
I don’t remember/recall
I wonder
Do you know…?
Can/could you tell me…?
Can/could you remind me…?

Add ‘if’ or question word(s)

Put ‘if’ for yes/no questions.

If there are question words, use them.

Add a general, affirmative statement.

It’s not a question, so don’t invert or add auxiliaries.

Treat it as the affirmative answer. Stop when you arrive at a verb.

Let’s look at some more examples.

Direct question: Are you at home now?
Indirect question:
1. Select a phrase – Could you tell me…
2. Can we answer the direct question with ‘yes’? Yes, we can. – if…
3. Add the affirmative statement – …you are at home now?

Direct question: Do you live alone?
Indirect question:
1. Select a phrase – I wonder…
2. Can we answer the direct question with ‘yes’? Yes, we can. – if…
3. Add the affirmative statement – …you live alone.

Direct question: Where do you live?
Indirect question:
1. Select a phrase – I don’t remember…
2. Can we answer the direct question with ‘yes’? No, we can’t – where…
3. Add the affirmative statement – …you live.

Your turn! Can you change the following direct questions into indirect questions?

Whose smelly shoes are these?
Does your family go to church?
Why are you crying?
Do you like my cooking?

Tips and tricks

When you are new at this, don’t try to make the whole indirect question at once. Break it into the three steps, and do them one at a time.

Step 1 is simple. Just make sure that the phrase you select makes sense in the context of your question.

Step 2:
You can substitute ‘if’ with ‘whether’ without changing the meaning. For example, you can say ‘I wonder if you like chocolate’ or ‘I wonder whether you like chocolate’.

If you aren’t sure what the question words are, look for a verb. The question words are all of the words up to the verb.

Can you identify the question words?
1.) Who wants to help me?
2.) Whose backpack is this?
3.) How long does it take to get to the city?
4.) How do you feel about the results?
5.) Which flavor of ice cream will you try?

Give step 2 a try!

Can you add ‘if’ or the correct question words to these indirect questions?

Step 3 can be a little tricky. Try starting with the general, affirmative answer to the direct question. In natural speech, we stop at the auxiliary in our answers. If you asked me ‘do you like beans’, I would answer ‘Yes, I do’. But here, I will imagine that I’m a robot, and answer the question with the entire clause. ‘Yes, I like beans’.

For example:
Are you alone? Yes, I am alone.
I wonder if you are alone.

Does Sam like broccoli? Yes, Sam likes broccoli.
I’d like to know if Sam likes broccoli.

Once you have the correct sentence structure, make sure that you use the correct pronouns and possessive adjectives, so that the questions refer to the correct person or people.

Give step 3 a try!
Can you complete the questions?

Let’s practice!

Indirect Questions Speaking Cards – Flip a card for a speaking prompt.